A major Parisian opera house threw out a veiled Muslim woman because the socialist French government has an anti-face covering law. The incident has and should divide opinion in the city’s arts community. The cast members objected to the presence of a covered woman in the audience. Some singers didn’t even want to sing. A legal ban on Muslims covering their face in public in France has been in effect since 2011. Women are actually often criminalized on the outskirts of French cities, but this incident is the first one of its kind. The woman is believed to be a rich Gulf-y patron who was their with her friend. A security guard explained the legal ban and said she must show her face or she must leave.
I think the Laicite framework in France has a resulting effect of discrimination towards Muslims. Such laws reflect a totalitarian concept of secular ideals and they require modern citizens to reject religiosity in any public way. This oppression cites individual freedom over will in order to make French society homogenous. The idea fails to give substance to the fact that headscarves or veils liberate many Muslim women, especially in the West, from sexual objectification and unwanted attention. Even if that is not true in a majority of cases, the fact that it is true in some should be enough. These laws are going one step too far simply because they are deciding the goodness or badness of citizen engagement with philosophy. France, in my opinion, falls within the same category as fundamentalist places like Saudi Arabia where the law is the opposite. Islam, in many parts of the West, is a security issue. The fact of the matter is that religious banning is based on a presumption that conflates terrorism with public displays of religion or religious symbols. The fact of the matter is that it misdirects us by drawing a line from the enemy to religion, when the problem is explained more clearly in political and economic terms.
Finally, women are not cut off by society if they choose to cover themselves. This conversation is not about whether or not the hijab or niqab is fashionable, oppressive or whether it is good or bad for people. This conversation is about policy and what happens when policy misses the point. European associations with progression have gone towards the decline of religion and the rise of sexual liberty, but completely prohibiting something should not be the response to people trying to separate themselves from the mainstream. Banning the niqab hurts what France intends to protect: gender equality. Ultimately, banning clothes that women may choose to wear deprives them of their right to make that choice for themselves. Muslims are already having debates on female dress. While some scholars publicly condemn the niqab from their universities, other scholars stick to the notion that the niqab is fundamental. Dictating less and listening to the Muslim community more, will likely achieve better results.